Black History 365: Octavia E. Butler

We are highlighting examples of Black excellence throughout the year! Feel free to send us suggestions!

OCTAVIA E. BUTLER was a renowned African American author who received a MacArthur “Genius” Grant and PEN West Lifetime Achievement Award for her body of work. Born in Pasadena in 1947, she was raised by her mother and her grandmother.  She was the author of several award-winning novels including PARABLE OF THE SOWER (1993), which was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, and PARABLE OF THE TALENTS (1995) winner of the Nebula Award for the best science fiction novel published that year. She was acclaimed for her lean prose, strong protagonists, and social observations in stories that range from the distant past to the far future.

Though the MacArthur Grant made life easier in later years, she struggled for decades when her dystopian novels exploring themes of Black injustice, global warming, women’s rights and political disparity were, to say the least, not in commercial demand. 

During these years of obscurity Butler, always an early riser, woke at 2 a.m. every day to write, and then went to work as a telemarketer, potato chip inspector, and dishwasher, among other things. 

She passed away on February 24, 2006. At the time of her death, interest in her books was beginning to rise, and in recent years, sales of her books have increased enormously as the issues she addressed in her Afro-Futuristic, feminist novels and short fiction have only become more relevant.

Her work is now taught in over 200 colleges and universities nationwide. The #1 New York Times bestselling graphic novel adaptation of her book KINDRED, created by Damian Duffy and John Jennings, received the Eisner Award for best adaptation. 

In media, her novel DAWN is being developed for television by Ava DuVernay (“Selma”; “A Wrinkle In Time”). An opera by Toshi Reagon based on Butler’s novel PARABLE OF THE SOWER was part of The Public Theatre “Under the Radar” festival and toured worldwide in 2018. Amazon Studios and JuVee Productions (Viola Davis and Julius Tennon’s production company) are developing a drama series from Butler’s PATTERNIST series, beginning with WILD SEED, and the series is being co-written by Nnedi Okorafor and Wanuri Kahiu, who will also direct.

Awards and Recognition

  • 2018, Eisner Award for Best Adaptation from Another Medium – Kindred, by Octavia Butler, adapted by Damian Duffy and John Jennings (Abrams ComicArts)
  • 2012, Solstice Award, Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America
  • 2010, Inductee Science Fiction Hall of Fame
  • 2000, PEN American Center Lifetime Achievement Award in Writing
  • 1999, Nebula Award for Best Novel – Parable of the Talents
  • 1995, MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Grant
  • 1985, Hugo Award for Best Novelette – Bloodchild
  • 1985, Locus Award for Best Novelette – Bloodchild
  • 1985, Science Fiction Chronicle Award for Best Novelette – Bloodchild
  • 1984, Hugo Award for Best Short Story – Speech Sounds
  • 1984, Nebula Award for Best Novelette – Bloodchild
  • 1980, Creative Arts Award, L.A. YWCA